Parent-teacher conferences can be exciting to look forward to, but they can also be uninformative if you don’t arrive equipped to ask informative questions. Often, our parenting culture emphasizes academic progress, even within the early school years, because it can quantify child development and learning in this way. Strong academic abilities is also associated with future success and intelligence and so parents want to see tangible measures of growth during conferences.
However, in the early years, and even beyond, academic abilities are only a piece of the developmental puzzle and often cannot be accurately measured, nor quantified. Beyond hitting important developmental milestones, early education is best centered around nurturing social and emotional development, even above the ABC’s and 123’s.
Here is a quick reference list with several important questions to ask your child’s teachers to ensure that they are maximizing opportunities for growth and development for your child, within the context of the classroom:
1) Is my child demonstrating appropriate levels of self-control for his/her age?
Self-control is one of the most heavily studied personal qualities that has been shown repeatedly to be linked to success and happiness in the adults years. A brilliant child who cannot exhibit self-control will have a difficult time using his superb abilities effectively. I would be more concerned that a child is keeping pace in this area of development than in the academic areas in the early years.
2) Is my child demonstrating a concerted effort in his work?
Trying your best and demonstrating perseverance are often difficult qualities to demonstrate for small children. You can encourage perseverance by praising a child’s efforts as opposed to their performance and providing appropriate, yet challenging, tasks for your child.
3) Is my child willing to take on challenges at school? What is something that has challenged my child? How did he/she deal with failure?
It is important that your child’s classroom is a nurturing environment that is safe and provides an opportunity for your child to try new experiences and fail in the process. It is also important that your child learns to demonstrate perseverance in spite of set-backs and lack of skill. Constant success leaves very little room for learning, but too much failure can lead to frustration.
4) Which type of tasks does my child excel in and which do not challenge him/her? & Which types of tasks seem to enthrall or not interest my child?
Typically the answer to both questions will be similar, but not always. It is just as important for you to consider the answer to both as it is for the teacher. For example, if your child is very interested in music at home, but is not showing interest or ability at school, there may be an issue with the instruction or delivery of the subject.
5) Does my child show compassion and demonstrate caring behaviors to his/her peers?
Social development is a critical area of focus in the early years and has been linked to future school performance. Sometimes it is hard for parents to accept the fact that there is a social concern a for child. Remember, while overtly aggressive behaviors are still normal for young children, that they are a cause for concern and need to be addressed. Empathy is an important skill to build if there is cause for concern and, in most cases, can be easily and intentionally taught. Children move in and out of phases and it is important that neither you nor your child feel labeled or shamed if they are in a rough phase.
6) Do you have any concerns academically or socially that you’d like to discuss with me?
Accept your teacher’s constructive feedback with grace and try not to get defensive. It is not easy to share these with parents and sometimes administration discourages teacher’s raising these concerns so this question is important to ask.
7) What are his/her academic and social strengths?
I like to always end on a positive note! Be sure to offer some positive feedback to your child’s teacher if there are areas about her/his instruction that you raised. Teaching is hard work and in most cases teachers genuinely care about your, and want what is best for, your child. Thank them and praise their strengths.